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North Korean Defectors Reveal Horrifying Details Of Prison Camps At Harrowing UN Inquiry

21/08/2013 12:30 BST

Survivors of a North Korean prison camp have revealed their hellish experiences at a harrowing United Nations inquiry.

Public executions and torture were a daily occurrence at the camps, The Commission of Inquiry heard.

One ex-prisoner, 34-year-old Jee Heon-a, revealed the horrifying moment a new mother was forced to drown her own child.

"It was the first time I had seen a newborn baby and I felt happy," she said.

"But suddenly there were footsteps and a security guard came in and told the mother to turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water.

"The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her. So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died."

north korean prison

A female North Korean soldier looks out from behind a barbed-wire fence surrounding one of the prison camps

Another defector revealed the moment he was forced to watch the execution of his family after he turned them in for his own survival.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a prison called Camp 14, said his earliest memory of life in a North Korean prison camp was the public execution that inmates were forced to watch when he was five years old.

The former prisoner, who escaped the camp in 2005, said he overheard his mother and brother planning an escape attempt and told guards, who then made him watch as they were executed.

He later described how a starving seven-year-old girl was clubbed to death for stealing a few grains of wheat.

Many North Koreans are continuing to suffer in sub-human conditions, human rights groups have warned, with defectors revealing entire families can be sent to die at the camps for "crimes against the state".

On the first day of the inquiry, held in South Korea's capital city, Seoul, the brave former inmates gave evidence to an expert panel who will examine North Korea's human rights record.

The United Nations Human Rights Council launched the inquiry in March with a one-year mandate to investigate what the council called allegations of “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights.”

However, the secretive state has repeatedly denied that it abuses human rights and has blocked access to investigators in a refusal to recognise the Commission.

In a joint letter delivered to the panel yesterday, groups of North Korean defectors said they hoped that the inquiry would lead to the indictment of “Kim Jong-un and his clique” in the International Criminal Court.

“We ourselves or our family members were dragged into prisons without trial, we suffered unspeakable torture and humiliation when we were caught while trying to flee North Korea, and we had to witness neighbours and relatives dying while waiting for food rations,” their statement said.